She's been hard at work for almost 3 months now doing the same thing over and over and over and over and... well, you get the idea.
And really that's the perfect job for a robot to do.
So why do we have Rita milking our cows? Let's take a little trip back in time to answer that question, shall we?
According to Dan's grandfather, 125 years ago when Dan's great-great-grandma wanted milk to feed her growing family she headed out with a pitcher in hand to their cow, that's right, one cow. Holding the pitcher in one hand she milked the cow with the other hand right into that pitcher and brought it in to be drank with dinner or churned into butter.
As the years went by, and the next generations came, a few more cows were born and eventually there was more milk than their family could drink and there were other families in the area who wanted that milk. So now instead of milking into the pitcher, they milked, still by hand, into metal milk cans. Typically they separated the cream from the skim milk right there on the farm. Then the hogs got the skim milk and the cream was picked up and hauled by horse & wagon to the local creamery to be made into butter. It turns out that it was actually Dan's great-great-grandfather Roy on the other side of his family tree that picked up cream from area farmers with his horses & cart (made into a sled in the winter) and brought it into the creamery.
As time continued to go by more and more families decided it wasn't practical for them to own and milk a cow but still wanted to give their family milky goodness. At the same time new technologies were being invented that allowed Dan's great-grandpa to milk more cows in a shorter amount of time, meaning he could provide more families with more milk!
Dan's grandfather, Neil, remembers when their first two automatic milking machines arrived sometime in the mid-1940's. He was a little boy and his dad, Adlai, was pretty skeptical. He made sure to keep the shipping crate around for awhile, "Just in case it doesn't work" as Neil remember's him saying. But work it did and our family hasn't looked back since. Twice a day Adlai moved those two milking machines from cow to cow until he'd milked all 17 cows, the number of stalls in the original barn. The milk still headed into metal milk cans and then was either picked up or taken to the local creamery.
Now for a little anatomy lesson... milk comes out of a cow's teats from their udder which happens to be located on the underside of their belly. What does that mean if you're milking a cow? Well Dan's great-great grandmother probably just bent over or squatted down for the few minutes it took her to get enough milk for her family but as more and more cows were being milked it mean more time bent over, squatting, or on your knees. And if you've ever spent much time bent over, squatted down, or on your knees it can take a toll on your body - especially if you're doing it over and over again twice a day every day. So technology continued to evolve...
As more and more people wanted to buy milk and dairy products at the store instead of milking a cow themselves everyday, Dan's dad, Dave realized he would need to milk even more cows making even more milk in a shorter amount of time ('cause we all only have 24 hours in a day!). So in 1979 he and Pam built a new barn and a milking parlor, the room the cows visited twice a day to get milked. The milking parlor had four milking units allowing four cows to be milked at one time and four more getting read to be milked on the other side.
The other advantage of the new parlor? Well, in the middle the floor was dug out lower, meaning no more bending, squatting, or kneeling to put the milking machine on the cows teats, leading to less back and knee problems. But Dan's parents and then Dan still had to prepare each cow to get milked and then put on and take off the milking unit of each cow, which meant rotating your arm in and out 3-4 times for 70 cows 2 times a day or over 450 times a day every day of the year. That's a lot the same repetitive motion often resulting in things like tennis elbow and contributing to arthritis.
And that's one of the reasons Rita the robot has joined the farm.
It turns out the Rita can do that repetitive motion of preparing the cows for milking and attaching the milkers over and over again without significant harm to herself and if she does "get sick" or break down we don't have to go to the doctor, prepare for weeks off after surgery, or try a variety of medications, we just fix her and get back milking the cows.
Now there's actually lots of other reasons too... Dan has more time to oversee and care for the cows instead of spending most of his time just milking them; Rita can give us more information about each cow and her well-being than we'd ever be able to know without her; she doesn't have attitude problems or forget to show up to work; the cows actually like the consistency of being milked the same way every single time and more but I think I'll cover those another day.
What parts of your job have been automated over the past 100 years?
Ice Cream Month is coming to a close. Hopefully you've been following Dan on Twitter as he's been eating ice EVERYDAY this month! (When you work as hard as him, you can do that!) But you may be surprised to know that Dan isn't the biggest ice cream lover I know; his Grandpa Pete is! There is a joke in our family that Grandpa Pete & Grandma Mary would NEVER be out of ice cream at their house and we'd all be horrified if it happened!
So, in honor of Ice Cream Month I decided I'd do a little interview with the biggest ice cream lover I know.
Lynn: Do you remember the first time you ate ice cream?
Pete: No, but I do remember that in the winter my mom would hang an old one gallon syrup pail full of ice cream on the clothes line and as the wind rocked it back and forth it made ice cream. We, of course, made it ourselves in the hand freezer and it was a treat when we had it, so when we had it, we ate it!
Lynn: Any other childhood memories of ice cream?
Pete: When I was a child you could get a 5 cent cone at the little grocery stores that were located in most neighborhoods. I remember walking all over Waverly one day with my Aunt Mary to find one that was open to get an ice cream cone. We walked to 3 different ones before finding an open one!
Lynn: What about as you got a little older?
Pete: Well when I was in 7th or 8th grade my good friend and I would ride our bikes around and eventually would each buy quarter gallon of ice cream, eat it all, and then ride home. I was only about 80lbs for that much ice cream filled me up!
In high school our principal left for the day for a meeting in Ames and while he was gone there were some shenanigans that went on, so when he returned he asked who was in on it. Each time, I fessed up but no one else did. He said if I'd done it all on my own he was impressed and gave me money to go get myself a few malts at the corner drug store while the rest of the class got to stay late.
Then as I entered young adulthood, my love for ice cream was still known to those around me. While in G.I. Farm School, one of the guys was graduating and everyone was going out to the local tavern. They guys knew that I didn't drink alcohol but still wanted me to go along so they arranged for the bartender to make me a malt instead – which made some of the other guys jealous because it wasn't a typical offering.
In our family years we'd often have ice cream parties where a few families would all bring their ice cream hand freezers and we'd make big batches together and then of course, eat it.
Lynn: What's the most ice cream you've ever eaten?
Pete: Well back in 1959, the year after Dan's mom was born, we got snowed in for 3 days. Every night for those 3 nights, the neighbor family came over and we made a freezer full of ice cream and then ate it all.
Lynn:What do you eat ice cream on?
Pete: All of the normal desserts and fruit of course but after a trip to Ihop in Des Moines when our kids were in grade school, we started putting it on pancakes & waffles at breakfast! And now I make apple cinnamon oatmeal in the morning and put ice cream in it too! If you don't have coffee creamer a dab of ice cream works great! And my sister-in-law always thought I was crazy but I always liked ice cream with banana jello, too.
On the first day of our local county fair there's a big pancakes breakfast. And to this day, since I introduced it over 30 years ago, they still serve ice cream with the pancakes. The first year I did it, people told me they didn't need that much “butter” on their pancakes.
Lynn: Do you have a favorite flavor?
Pete: Now that's a hard one. Vanilla goes with so many things, like pie, cake, oatmeal, and fruit, that you always need to have some on hand. As for flavors, it depends on the day and the situation but if you had to nail me down a REALLY GOOD strawberry ice cream would top the list.
** At which point Grandma Mary interjected that if she had to choose his favorite ice cream she would have no idea!
** Full Disclosure: This interview is completely true although answers are not verbatim but have been reviewed by Pete himself. Thanks!
Most kids are sure to get their first bite of cake on their first birthday, which Miss Muffet did, but Great-Grandpa Pete also needed to make sure she got her first taste of ice cream too! Which, she wasn't impressed with at the time, but now loves!
I touched on some of our farm's history in this post about the foundation on which we're building New Day Dairy. It's always good to write and record stories because often that's when discrepancies are found! Apparently the story I've been told about Dan's Great-great Grandpa & Grandma wasn't quite accurate. So after going in search of the truth by visiting Dan's Grandpa Neil & Grandma Mavis, I've uncovered the true story of the beginning of the Bolin family in Clarksville!
Dan's Great-great Grandma Margret Ann Hickle first came to the Clarksville, Iowa area by covered wagon with her family at the age of eleven. They had to ford the mighty Mississippi River, by attaching logs to the wagon wheels & floating their covered wagon across, because there weren't any bridges. Other Hickle's had already made the journey to Clarksville (the first is 1855), so they had family to join when they arrived (the original Hickle farm is SE of Clarksville).
Margret spent a few years in Iowa before, as a young woman, heading back to Illinois to work as a hired girl, back then a common practice by young woman before getting married. During her time back in Illinois she met George Washington Bolin; they fell in love and were married December 29, 1881. The first four of their children were born in Illinois before they decided to move back to Iowa in 1890, where they had 5 more children (4 of whom survived). Dan's great-grandpa Adlai was the first to be born on the current farm.
That fall George & Margret bought their first 80 acres of land, which is where the current farm now sits. At the time it didn't include much crop land, but mostly timber, where we now have pasture. They wanted the timber as it was valuable for both fuel and building. The east end of the what we now call the "old barn" was already there but George used timber from the land to add on the west end of the barn. If you visit you can see the big log beams that are still in use today holding up our haymow!
To feed their family they, like most farms & families at the time, kept a variety of animals, including of course, the family cow. At the time the barnyard was south of the "old barn" and that's where the family cow hung out. When Margret needed milk for the next meal or to make butter, she had a large pitcher with a handle she took out to the barnyard. Holding it in one hand she then used her other hand to milk the family cow before bring it back inside for the next meal!
Now a-days we milk more than just a family cow, so that you don't have to have a barnyard and a pitcher to get your milk for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! And I'm thankful you do what you do, so that we can get back to caring for our cows, our specialty! What's your specialty?
PS... Watch for more "The Old Days" posts, as I uncover more farm stories from the past to share with you and our children's children!
A New Day. Welcome to New Day Dairy, or I should say the beginnings of New Day Dairy. We haven't actually milked a cow yet but we have plenty of blueprints, forms, meeting notes, e-mails, and phone calls. A dairy farm doesn't just happen by accident, that's for sure, so we've been working hard to get everything prepared. Although intensive planning started almost 2 years ago, the foundation has been being built for years.
A new day is preceded by many other days that both influence it and form a foundation for what that new day holds. Although a new day can hold promises of change, renewal, and progress, the foundation and influencers of past days is most always evident. So it is with New Day Dairy. We're so grateful that we have a strong foundation upon which we are building!
Dan's great-great grandfather George Washington Bolin left Illinios in 1890 and headed west to Iowa, not in pursuit of better land but in pursuit of Dan's great-great grandmother, Margret Ann (Hickle) Bolin. He settled in a small valley near Beaver Creek just outside of Clarksville and they began raising a family on their small farm.
Throughout most of the first 70 plus years our farm was like most small family farms of the time, growing some crops & putting up hay to feed the animals that consisted of chickens, pigs, cows, and, of course, some horses to do the grunt work. Farming the land and caring for our animals has always been a way of life in our family, until it almost came to an end.
When Dan's dad, Dave, was only 13 years old, his grandfather decided it was time he took a job off the farm and became the postmaster in Clarksville. They still had a few cows but Grandpa Neil had decided that before winter they would need to sell them too; it was just too much to do anymore. Thankfully Dan's Aunt Sandy overheard Grandpa Neil & Grandma Mavis discussing that they would sell the cows and told Dave, who proceeded to tell his dad and mom that he would like to milk the cows. So at 13 years old, he took on the responsibility for milking & managing the cows on the farm.
While he was still going to school, he'd get up early to milk the cows before school and then milk again in the evening. After graduation he planned to stay on the farm, but a professor convinced him to attend Iowa State University, only a week before classes started. Mavis and his sister Barb were crucial in continuing to manage the farm and milk the cows while Dave was a college man, yet still coming home every weekend of course!
Four years later he'd managed to both convince his professors to give him a Dairy Science degree and convince Dan's mom, Pam (who was actually the neighbor girl), to marry him! They headed back Beaver Creek Farm to a new barn, constructed that winter, to continue their farming career.
Today that “new” barn is over 35 years old and although still chugging away and getting the job done, needs a lot of repairs and remodels to be able to fully meet the needs of the cows into the future. And 125 years ago, building in the valley near a creek was a good idea, but today when we're more concerned about water quality and planning & building for the next 125 years, building on a near by hilltop plateau, that overlooks the current farm, makes more sense.
New Day Dairy wouldn't be possible without the foundation that has been built the past 125 years. We're so grateful for the heritage of hard work, strong values, faith, perseverance, and love that we're now able to build on.
Growing up a city-girl, after marrying my dairy farmer husband and spending a few years abroad, we came home to expand the family dairy farm and want to share our journey & farm life with you!